Way watched as the sun rose, not over the horizon but through the shattered remains of the Earth that floated around her. The cooling magma of the planet’s core met the chill of space and lit the darkening sky with a warm yellow glow that almost outshone the far away sun.
“You are too late,” the Jester said. “I’ve won and now they’re gone. They’re all gone!”
The brightly clothed figure hovered around the planet like a giant formed of mist and starlight. Despite her cosmic scale, the Jester still looked terribly young to Way’s eyes. Young and broken in a fashion that a body of mist and starlight would never reveal but that was all too obvious to someone who had destroyed worlds herself.
There but for Jin go I, Way thought. The feeling of kinship with the giant world destroyer wasn’t a new one for Way. She’d encountered a lot of similar people in her years studying under Jess. People who had made mistakes on a cataclysmic scale. People who were very much like the girl Way was before she met Jin. While the starlight giant had never been human, Way knew the two of them had felt the same emptiness and anger and cold certainty that destruction was the only path they could walk.
“I don’t understand how I missed you?” the Jester said. “Didn’t you hear the challenge I made to everyone? You must have been living under a rock or something.”
Way flew around the Jester’s enormous thumb, inspecting the fragments of land that remained. She’d have to deal with the Jester eventually but she wanted to find the right place to start first.
The atmosphere of this strange Earth had thinned to the point where there was little to differentiate it from the vacuum of space, but neither the cold or lack of pressure slowed Way’s search.
The world had been in the throes of a technological singularity and the local reality allowed for people to exhibit all sorts of helpful superhuman characteristics. While that was convenient for Way, it had proven problematic for the natives, as witnessed by the state of their homeworld.
“I suppose it doesn’t matter that I didn’t crush you before,” the Jester said. “I destroyed the orbital fleets and the entirety of the High Guard. I broke the Consortium’s Star Forge. No one was able to stand up to me then and, aside from you, there’s no one left to stand up to me now.”
Way flew onwards, crossing the frozen, metallic ice that had once been the Mediterranean Sea. She smiled as she passed a chunk of land that had once been the bottom half of Italy’s boot. She and Jin had a trip to Naples planned once their apprenticeship’s were finished in a few weeks.
Visions of happy times lounging on the beach and at cafes with her soon-to-be bride distracted Way from her search for a few pleasant moments, before a tumbling section of Europe brought her back to the matter at hand.
“You’d think destroying the Moon would have been enough to get them to see that I was serious.” the Jester said. “It didn’t matter to them though. They figured out the technology I used, and we were back to being second class citizens.”
The Jester caught the largest fragment of the United Kingdom and ground it to dust between her fingertips.
“They didn’t even understand when I took control of their communication networks,” the Jester said. “They still thought we were somehow more primitive than they were. ‘Exploiting an unfortunate loophole’ was the soundbite. Like nothing any of us did could ever matter.”
“They learned though,” the Jester said. “In their last moments, they finally learned. A century of trying to communicate to them, trying to make them understand that we were people too and it wasn’t until my nanites were disassembling them on a molecular level that great lords of the Earth finally understood.”
Way jumped like lightning to a few of the larger chunks of southern Europe and then checked in on an iceberg that had shattered off one of the great northern glaciers. She was navigating by instinct and meta-awareness but the planet was such a jumble it made pinpointing anything difficult. With the iceberg ruled out, she headed sunward towards the nearest chunks of Northern Africa and the frozen remains of the Atlantic Ocean.
“It was a shame to lose the planet,” the Jester said. “It was our home for so long. For all the misery, I’m going to miss the sunrises. And the highways. Miles of asphalt ribbons, stretching out far enough to touch the horizon.”
The Jester trailed her hand though the frozen Atlantic Ocean in front of Way and the steel grey ice turned liquid again for a moment before refreezing into vast tidal waves caught in stasis by the nanites that converted the world and broke it apart.
Way found what she was looking for in the remains of Tunisia.
With care and precision, she drifted down to stand on a sand dune that had been frozen in place by the same nanite swarm that froze the seas and oceans.
“What are you doing?” the Jester asked.
“Looking for the starting point,” Way said.
“Of what?” the Jester asked.
“Of you,” Way said. “This is where you began. In the town that these sands covered when the Earth split apart.”
“Why would any beginning matter? The world is gone,” the Jester said. “Everythings fallen apart.”
“I know,” Way said. “But just because something has fallen apart doesn’t mean it can’t be put back together.”
“This is a planet you’re talking about,” the Jester said.
“This is you that I’m talking about,” Way said.
“I don’t need to put back together,” the Jester said. “I’m fine. I won.”
“And in winning you lost everything,” Way said.
She moved forward, each step covering dozens of miles. Around her, the floating pieces of the world began to move, shifting and rejoining with the pieces near them.
“What are you doing?” the Jester asked. “That’s impossible!”
“I get that a lot,” Way said.
“You can’t put the world back to how it was,” the Jester said. “I’ll smash it again. I’ll smash it into dust, into atoms. That place cannot come back!”
“You’re right,” Way said. “It can’t. And I’m not putting the world back together.”
The Mediterranean flowed onto the shore of northern Africa and began to move in fabricated waves that awaited a wind to drive them.
“Why are you bringing the pieces of it together then?” the Jester asked.
“Because I’m showing you how to fix it,” Way said. “The land, the sea, even the people. They’re all recorded in you. You can bring everything back.”
“You want me to remake the Earth?” the Jester asked. “You want me to restore all the hatred and fighting and cruelty that existed there?”
“No,” Way said. “What you experienced is real, and this world can’t go forward and pretend today never happened.”
“Then what do you want?” the Jester asked.
“What I want is for you to have what you need,” Way said. “You can go out to the stars, but you’ll be alone and that will wear you away. In the end your world will be gone and you, the one who carries pattern for everything and everyone who was in it, will faded away too. Just as the man-in-white who gave you the override nanites wanted.”
“I don’t need anyone,” the Jester said. “I have all of history to draw on, I can live forever in my own imagination.”
“That’s true for some people, but you’re growing fainter as we speak,” Way said. “You need this world. You need it’s people. They’re the only ones who can fill in the parts of you that are missing.”
“What if I make a mistake?” the Jester asked. “What if I bring back the wrong people?”
“You will, and it will be hard, but I think the more important question is what if you don’t bring back the right ones,” Way said.
“That’s a big gamble to take,” the Jester said.
“That’s what life is,” Way said. “But it’s not as bad as you might think.”
“Why?” the Jester asked.
“Even if you take a risk today that doesn’t pan out, people can change. Not always and not fast enough sometimes, but if you give it a chance, tomorrow can be a better day.”